“I wish I hadn’t
thought I had to
be so smart.”
—Lane DeGregory in “Letter to a Young Journalist”
“Figuring out a new
storytelling format is like
writing a story. You have
to start experimenting in
order to figure out wh...
“I worked in newspapers for years, but during
my last few years at the L.A. Times I really
wanted to become a magazine wri...
“My intention was to just write
what I saw and heard. I don’t
start out with any intention. I
think that’s a mistake that
...
“He suggested I divide my chapters into small
chunks. Two thousand words each. … Two
thousand words is just enough to pain...
“You follow your heart. That’s
what a story is. You want the
reader to feel first.”
— Tom Hallman
“There’s a skill to reporting, I think,
in terms of talking to people and
knowing where to go for information,
but reporti...
“These are three levels of the story that
I’m trying to write in almost every line
of the story: the science, the individu...
“I tend, in my first draft, to
write 50 or 60 percent, and I
often do two or three writethroughs, which I love doing. A
lo...
I can’t think of another
profession where you get
paid to just explore the
world.
— Lane DeGregory
It was a 15-month deployment, so
at the end of it I had basically
a 15-month chronology. That’s
when the writing begins. Y...
While all the journalists believe in the value
of the work they do, they also talk about the
price they pay to do it: long...
You need to decide going into the story
which medium is going to be the leader
and which media will tell which part of
a s...
Structure: How is the piece
built? Chronologically?
Does it move around in
time? Where and how
does the story begin?
“In Somalia, I’ve seen men whip
women with saplings. In Ethiopia, I’ve
seen a man hit a woman so hard with a
wooden stick,...
“Oral histories celebrate the power
of the primary source,” Texas
Monthly reports on its Oral History
page. “For it’s the ...
“Scholars often point to “The
Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and
Depraved” as the origin of Gonzo
Journalism—that wacked- out,...
The flower stalls looked bright
and pretty along the promenade.
“The flowers are all sold,
Señores. For the funerals of
th...
“It’s hard to do something
meaningful with statistics, especially
one so shocking as that, but Frazier
conveys the grand s...
“We don’t talk about
compassion much in
journalism, but here’s my
deal: You can’t be afraid to
care. And too often we are
...
“Find motion in your story. Find a way to have
your character take you from the beginning
through the end or in some way b...
Once asked about the role of
empathy in his own work, Ted
Conover said, “I guess I see it as
being about connecting to oth...
“The contradictions are the conceit.
Saunders’s short stories and reams of
cultural essays all hinge on Major
Realizations...
“In 17 words, you
know the setting, the
narrative voice, the
type of story, the
built-in cross-cultural
tension.”
— Tommy ...
Basically the reason I do journalism is I
still have this little-kid’s reaction to
stories that I see out in the world, an...
“It was the first class I’d ever taken where the light bulbs kept going
off,” he says. “I had been a biology major, but I ...
“The goal is not to foreshadow
events narrated elsewhere in
the novel, but to create a quick
and colorful backstory that
w...
“Watching is one of the most
under-used tools in reporting.
It involves silence.”
—

Anne Hull
”Stop being
boring.”
“The most important
(thing) is to be locked
down in the process.”
— Carl Hiaasen
“How is it that a film director who
had never written about sports was
able to compose such a great
piece? Ironically, it ...
<Are you glad you did the piece?/eg <I am.
Sometimes what you think you did, that you
think was your best, other people do...
6) “14 Tips for Building Character,” by Rick
Meyer
“Build characters by showing their actions.
Sometimes you’ll be tempted...
“Part of what I like so much about this
piece is the simplicity of Wallace’s conceit.
He goes, he sees, he feels, he ponde...
“Got to get the tone right.
Got to find the right word,
the everyday word, the word
people really use.”
—

the Chicago Tri...
<It’s a lovely opening, the way you inform the
reader of Gloucester’s population size,
geography, economy — and then, in t...
“In storytelling what I’m trying to do
— this is Snap at its essence — is put
you where I am. To give you an
immersive sor...
“We come full circle to a captivating thought:
that an artist’s view of a city —
compassionate, challenging, inspiring —
c...
“The Reporter’s Trade has the feel of a Hardy
Boys adventure, if instead of investigating smalltown jewel thieves, Frank a...
Saito nodded to his catcher. He was about to throw his 942nd pitch of
the tournament, on his way to a modern record. Tanak...
… At the moment when we clamor for
more of Campbell’s unworldly
ministering to Martin Luther King
Jr. and the Klan, reconc...
I’m always interested in not knowing. I’m
interested in being a student, of learning
something new. And I never really lik...
“It was meant to be a
personal story. The
key was to make it a
universal truth.”
— Dallas Morning News Mexico City bureau ...
Here’s lesson No. 2 you got to learn about being
a reporter: You walk in with a good face. So
when you go in to talk to so...
“I started taking notes very
early, not because I wanted to
write something but because as a
reporter, that was comforting...
“An opening line
should invite the
reader to begin the
story. It should say:
Listen. Come in here.
You want to know
about ...
<Great use of documents in reporting. A report card
helping us get to know Natalie./ak Thanks for this.
Documents are alwa...
“What was innovative about New
Journalism? Mailer's ego. Matthew Arnold
coined the term in 1887. I worry that 1960s
New Jo...
“Trying to communicate without
using any metaphors would be like
trying to complete a paint-bynumbers canvas without red, ...
<This may be the first story I’ve ever read
where the writer professes to be aware of
— and sensitive to — a subject’s fee...
“All these shows get into a realm of
audio storytelling that is fairly new
territory for us. …There is no question
that th...
WBUR is … the Boston NPR station that
is using Creatavist for its Whitey Bulger trial
coverage. The newsroom had this “inc...
26:04: Junod once said that his “Rapist Says He’s
Sorry” story “exploded his writing process,” Colloff
says. “I was so int...
“To gain entrance into John Hersey’s 12-student
senior-year writing seminar at Yale you had to
submit writing samples and ...
This is a hurdle. It’s an obstacle of
some kind — could be a bad guy, could
be a physical challenge, could be some
sort of...
“In every piece, there
are themes that emerge
and must be wrestled
with. How do you do that?
You gather all your
reporting...
“He had these funny, interesting stories
but then he began to tell me about some
of his friends, also from Goa, India, who...
Nack makes you feel every moment, every
emotion, even an older man’s thrill at falling, with
a teenager’s passion, helples...
<A procedural question that relates to organization:
Do you work from timelines? Also, how much of the
case was already la...
The snow burst through the trees
with no warning but a last-second
whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of
white and Chris Ru...
I intend to spin you toward a certain
conclusion. The process is stealthy and
has already begun; it was no accident that
I...
<How did you decide how to structure this
piece? Is this version the one you drafted
originally or did you play around wit...
On Sept. 16, 1963, he published a column
called, “A Flower for the Graves.” It is
argument, but it also has a story. It st...
Write in the active voice, not the
passive. I’m amazed at how often this
still happens in my own writing. Avoid:
“to be,” ...
“Get to the scene of a story as
quickly as possible and absorb the
story, its characters and their
dialogue in the local v...
“So these are the seven
principles of magic, and I
think they’re the seven
principles of storytelling:
palm, ditch, steal,...
Narrative bonbons — Storyboard takeaways, 2013
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Narrative bonbons — Storyboard takeaways, 2013

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Nieman Storyboard is the narrative nonfiction website of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. These are outtakes from 2013 posts.

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Narrative bonbons — Storyboard takeaways, 2013

  1. 1. “I wish I hadn’t thought I had to be so smart.” —Lane DeGregory in “Letter to a Young Journalist”
  2. 2. “Figuring out a new storytelling format is like writing a story. You have to start experimenting in order to figure out what works, what doesn’t and what you don’t know.” — Chuck Salter, on his Fast Company livestorytelling project “Detroit: A Love Story”
  3. 3. “I worked in newspapers for years, but during my last few years at the L.A. Times I really wanted to become a magazine writer. I was tired of writing around what I didn’t know. And I really had begun to believe you could say more that was true in good long-form writing.” — Amy Wallace, annotating her profile of Garry Shandling
  4. 4. “My intention was to just write what I saw and heard. I don’t start out with any intention. I think that’s a mistake that people make.” — Lillian Ross on her classic New Yorker profile of Ernest Hemingway, “How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?”
  5. 5. “He suggested I divide my chapters into small chunks. Two thousand words each. … Two thousand words is just enough to paint a little picture and convey one small idea. The word limit prevents you from droning on and on. Later, you can flesh out a few chapters, as needed — 4,000 words, 6,000 words. And then you’ve got your 70,000 words.” — Jason Fagone, author of Ingenious, on how to write a narrative nonfiction book
  6. 6. “You follow your heart. That’s what a story is. You want the reader to feel first.” — Tom Hallman
  7. 7. “There’s a skill to reporting, I think, in terms of talking to people and knowing where to go for information, but reporting really comes down to care. It comes down to being willing to put in the time and to be careful with people, to be empathetic; I think that’s how you get good information. And then writing: A lot of it comes down to labor, just being willing to sit down and work and work and work and cross-write. In those moments, you can be motivated by fear of losing your job, or you can be motivated by money, or you can be motivated by deadlines; but the best stories, you’re motivated because you really want to tell a great story.” —Esquire’s Chris Jones
  8. 8. “These are three levels of the story that I’m trying to write in almost every line of the story: the science, the individual story of my character, and the bigger story of the social conflict. So that’s hard; it takes time.” — the New York Times’ Amy Harmon, on science narrative
  9. 9. “I tend, in my first draft, to write 50 or 60 percent, and I often do two or three writethroughs, which I love doing. A lot of reporters think it’s an insult to have to go back and write again, but I pray that I’m asked that.” — the Washington Post’s Anne Hull
  10. 10. I can’t think of another profession where you get paid to just explore the world. — Lane DeGregory
  11. 11. It was a 15-month deployment, so at the end of it I had basically a 15-month chronology. That’s when the writing begins. You, first of all, want to tell a true story. But you also want to tell something that reads like a story. And it can’t be a onenote thing. If this is something unbearably sad, you can’t continue just to have that one note playing again and again, of sadness. That would be unbearable for the reader and also probably pretty boring. There’s pacing, there’s a different tone — I mean, you want a reader to read it. — the Washington Post’s David Finkel, on reporting and writing The Good Soldier and Thank You for Your Service
  12. 12. While all the journalists believe in the value of the work they do, they also talk about the price they pay to do it: long hours, brutal deadlines, the emotional toll of witnessing grief and tragedy, and the impact on their personal lives. — Simina Mistreanu, in her piece on seven narrative journalists about craft
  13. 13. You need to decide going into the story which medium is going to be the leader and which media will tell which part of a story best. — the New York Times’ Sean Patrick Farrell on survival tips for multimedia journalists
  14. 14. Structure: How is the piece built? Chronologically? Does it move around in time? Where and how does the story begin?
  15. 15. “In Somalia, I’ve seen men whip women with saplings. In Ethiopia, I’ve seen a man hit a woman so hard with a wooden stick, I heard the sound of her head crack through the closed windows of the car. In Kenya, I saw a mob of guys with arrows and sticks moving toward a man who had no idea he was going to die that day.” — NPR’s Gwen Thompkins, now host of the New Orleans radio show “Music Inside Out;” from our Featured Fellow series honoring the Nieman Foundation’s 75th anniversary
  16. 16. “Oral histories celebrate the power of the primary source,” Texas Monthly reports on its Oral History page. “For it’s the firsthand observer to history and his unique imprint of remembrances that are the building blocks of this form of storytelling.”
  17. 17. “Scholars often point to “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” as the origin of Gonzo Journalism—that wacked- out, hallucina- participatory style of Thompson’s that became fully realized in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 , before it became a caricature imprisoning him in a cage of his own creation.” — Josh Roiland, on Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved”
  18. 18. The flower stalls looked bright and pretty along the promenade. “The flowers are all sold, Señores. For the funerals of those who were killed in the eleven o’clock bombing, poor souls.” — Martha Gellhorn and “The Third Winter”
  19. 19. “It’s hard to do something meaningful with statistics, especially one so shocking as that, but Frazier conveys the grand scale of New York’s crisis.” — Casey N. Cep, on Ian Frazier’s New Yorker piece on the New York City homeless
  20. 20. “We don’t talk about compassion much in journalism, but here’s my deal: You can’t be afraid to care. And too often we are afraid to care, and hide behind this false wall of objectivity and distance.” — Jacqui Banaszynski
  21. 21. “Find motion in your story. Find a way to have your character take you from the beginning through the end or in some way bring some direct action into your story, so that you have movement in there that helps describe the complexity.” — Cynthia Gorney
  22. 22. Once asked about the role of empathy in his own work, Ted Conover said, “I guess I see it as being about connecting to others unlike oneself. Part of that is an intellectual exercise and part is emotional; if you work at it, you can close the distance. — from “On Crime Writing and Empathy”
  23. 23. “The contradictions are the conceit. Saunders’s short stories and reams of cultural essays all hinge on Major Realizations. You won’t just get writerly exposition but also Moral Import, Aphoristic Snap, Compassion. There will be several opportunities to break from the page and dwell on the material beyond it. If you’re in a crowded place, you’ll begin to generously consider the interior lives of those around you.” — Shona Sanzgiri on George Saunders’ GQ piece on the “Buddha boy”
  24. 24. “In 17 words, you know the setting, the narrative voice, the type of story, the built-in cross-cultural tension.” — Tommy Tomlinson on the intersection of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and narrative journalism
  25. 25. Basically the reason I do journalism is I still have this little-kid’s reaction to stories that I see out in the world, and it’s either one of two things: It’s either “no, it’s simpler than that,” or “Yes, it’s more complicated than that.” — Tom Junod
  26. 26. “It was the first class I’d ever taken where the light bulbs kept going off,” he says. “I had been a biology major, but I didn’t have a sense of how it all fit together. This was like looking at a car as a whole system, instead of just getting all of the little pieces. It’s seeing how the pieces all operate in a person. If you understand the big picture, all of the rest starts falling into place.” It is a fitting place to begin. Students start with the foundations they will use their entire careers — the map and the vocabulary necessary to communicate with anyone in medicine. But gross anatomy also provides something less scientific. Students share an experience that will bond them long after they have graduated, entered practice and forgotten most of their time in medical school. “This is an elucidation of death and dying,” Hoagland says. “It’s a way for students who have never experienced that to confront it.” That first class, on a Monday in August 2012, Hoagland tells the students what he expects. Get to class early. Be scholarly and professional at all times. No flip-flops in the lab. No shorts. No iPods. Students will work in teams of six. There are 36 teams; 36 bodies. Don’t talk about the donors in the elevator. Don’t discuss them at Starbucks. “Treat them well,” Hoagland says. “Be good stewards of the gift. These are some of the most altruistic people around. They donate knowing what we are going to do to the body.” — from Mark Johnson’s narrative series, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on a med school class’s experience in gross anatomy
  27. 27. “The goal is not to foreshadow events narrated elsewhere in the novel, but to create a quick and colorful backstory that will help us understand the magically realistic actions of the character.” — Roy Peter Clark, on the “narrative overview”
  28. 28. “Watching is one of the most under-used tools in reporting. It involves silence.” — Anne Hull
  29. 29. ”Stop being boring.”
  30. 30. “The most important (thing) is to be locked down in the process.” — Carl Hiaasen
  31. 31. “How is it that a film director who had never written about sports was able to compose such a great piece? Ironically, it may have been Allen’s outsider status that helped him.” — Micah Wimmer on Woody Allen on the NBA great Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
  32. 32. <Are you glad you did the piece?/eg <I am. Sometimes what you think you did, that you think was your best, other people don’t at all think that. And then you’re reminded again and again and again that they like this and you think, “Well, first of all, who am I to know?” People ask if there’s ever a piece I wish I hadn’t written. I can’t think of one. I’m very glad I did the Sinatra piece. Sometimes you do what you have to do. Since it was the only job I had going, and since I had a 1-year-old daughter, and since I had financial obligations — I didn’t have any money saved. In 1966, my net worth was just a few thousand dollars./gt — Elon Green and Gay Talese, annotating “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”
  33. 33. 6) “14 Tips for Building Character,” by Rick Meyer “Build characters by showing their actions. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to develop characters by saying who they are. Show them instead. Shaq was tall. That’s telling it. Shaq ducked to get through the door. That’s showing it.” — from Storyboard’s The Big Book of Narrative: 150 tips for the storyteller
  34. 34. “Part of what I like so much about this piece is the simplicity of Wallace’s conceit. He goes, he sees, he feels, he ponders. And he writes 15,000 gripping words in timestamped, straight chronology.” — Brent McDonald on David Foster Wallace’s “A Ticket to the Fair”
  35. 35. “Got to get the tone right. Got to find the right word, the everyday word, the word people really use.” — the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich, channeling Elmore Leonard
  36. 36. <It’s a lovely opening, the way you inform the reader of Gloucester’s population size, geography, economy — and then, in the last sentence, bring it around to the focal point of the story. What prompted you to begin this way?/eg <I felt like I had to get into the place quickly and efficiently. I really like beginning stories by imagining them as the beginning of a movie./sj — Elon Green and Sebastian Junger, annotating the Outside magazine story that became The Perfect Storm
  37. 37. “In storytelling what I’m trying to do — this is Snap at its essence — is put you where I am. To give you an immersive sort of experience: Come sit on my shoulder for a minute.” — Glynn Washington, host of NPR’s Snap Judgment
  38. 38. “We come full circle to a captivating thought: that an artist’s view of a city — compassionate, challenging, inspiring — can be as crucial as a legislator’s, an executive’s, an engineer’s.” — Jennifer B. McDonald on Rebecca Solnit’s “Detroit Arcadia”
  39. 39. “The Reporter’s Trade has the feel of a Hardy Boys adventure, if instead of investigating smalltown jewel thieves, Frank and Joe Hardy traveled to global capitals, attended state dinners, and had a creeping suspicion about the Communist threat.” — Justin Ellis, from Nieman Journalism Lab’s summer reading list
  40. 40. Saito nodded to his catcher. He was about to throw his 942nd pitch of the tournament, on his way to a modern record. Tanaka had thrown 742 pitches. If the moment weren’t so touching, so inspiring, if it didn’t leave the boys watching it from their dugouts in tears, it would have been inhumane. Maybe it still was. 942. Fouled back for a strike. 943. Swinging strike. 944. Chopped foul. 945. High and outside. Ball one. 946. Fouled back again. 947. Fouled down the third base line. And then, at last: 948. Tanaka struck out, swing and a miss. Saito lifted what was left of his arms into the air. Because he was small, and because he looked as though he’d been broken, he wasn’t deemed a kaibutsu. There is more to the title than endurance, than simple suffering. A true kaibutsu inspires fear as well as awe. A true kaibutsu doesn’t get damaged. He does the damage. — from Chris Jones’ ESPN The Magazine piece on the Japanese pitcher Tomohiro Anraku
  41. 41. … At the moment when we clamor for more of Campbell’s unworldly ministering to Martin Luther King Jr. and the Klan, reconciling the hurt with the hurters and attempting to penetrate the soul of “antipreacher” Waylon Jennings, Wright brings us back to earth by humbly acknowledging, “I realized I had gone as far as I could go with my guru.” — from Win Bassett’s look at Lawrence Wright’s profile of the Rev. Will Campbell
  42. 42. I’m always interested in not knowing. I’m interested in being a student, of learning something new. And I never really like writing about anything I already know about. Generally, part of the journey of the writing for me is diving into something I know nothing about. — Susan Orlean
  43. 43. “It was meant to be a personal story. The key was to make it a universal truth.” — Dallas Morning News Mexico City bureau chief Alfredo Corchado, author of the memoir Midnight in Mexico, a Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness
  44. 44. Here’s lesson No. 2 you got to learn about being a reporter: You walk in with a good face. So when you go in to talk to somebody, do not look judgmental. I don’t care how much you hate them. I don’t care if it’s a serial killer. Don’t look judgmental. Show an intelligent curiosity. Nod your head when they talk. Here’s one thing I’ll do: Somebody’ll say something and I’ll go, “Uh huh,” like they put it together for me. And they could be saying, “I walked down the street to the 7-Eleven.” “Okay, I got it.” You want to make them feel like they’re important. — Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth
  45. 45. “I started taking notes very early, not because I wanted to write something but because as a reporter, that was comforting to me, to take notes, to sort of get that little invisible shield where you’re observing something.” — Kelley Benham French on “Never Let Go”
  46. 46. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” — Stephen King
  47. 47. <Great use of documents in reporting. A report card helping us get to know Natalie./ak Thanks for this. Documents are always so much better than quotes, I think, because there is no evidence of the reporter in them. A quote about Natalie from the teacher to me would have immediately reminded readers of my presence in the story, but a quote off her report card leaves me totally out of it, and doesn’t take you out of the narrative./es — from Andy Kroll and Eli Saslow’s annotation of “Into the Lonely Quiet,” about the Newtown shootings
  48. 48. “What was innovative about New Journalism? Mailer's ego. Matthew Arnold coined the term in 1887. I worry that 1960s New Journalism, a marketing ploy, ultimately did great damage to the genre.” — Rolling Stone’s Jeff Sharlet, in livechat conversation with essayist Leslie Jamison on the nature of literary journalism
  49. 49. “Trying to communicate without using any metaphors would be like trying to complete a paint-bynumbers canvas without red, blue, yellow and green.” — from “Better Writing through Poetry and Metaphor”
  50. 50. <This may be the first story I’ve ever read where the writer professes to be aware of — and sensitive to — a subject’s feelings. It’s not very Janet Malcolm-y./eg The Journalist and the Murderer is a brilliant and disturbing book that had a huge effect on me when I read it. It still calls to the surface a lot of guilt and anxiety I have about turning people into characters (as nonfiction necessarily does) but also makes me glad I write pieces that don’t profess to be standard journalism; I can write about the process of caring about the people I write about; there’s space for that./lj — Elon Green and Leslie Jamison, annotating her Oxford American piece “Fog Count”
  51. 51. “All these shows get into a realm of audio storytelling that is fairly new territory for us. …There is no question that there is a rightful expectation of NPR programs that they be truthful. … How do we clearly identify the sourcing of the material, and in a way that doesn’t get in the listener’s way? That’s what these growing pains are addressing.” — Eric Nuzum, NPR’s vice president for programming
  52. 52. WBUR is … the Boston NPR station that is using Creatavist for its Whitey Bulger trial coverage. The newsroom had this “incredible trove” of source material, decades worth, says Ratliff , an Atavist founder. “The challenge is figuring out to display those in the way that actually conveys as a story rather than just a collection of parts. That’s our goal in life.” — from “Storyteller, meet Creatavist”
  53. 53. 26:04: Junod once said that his “Rapist Says He’s Sorry” story “exploded his writing process,” Colloff says. “I was so interested in that. We all look at the people who we admire who write and we picture them just sitting down at their computer very peaceful, and they’re dressed, and in a good mood, and they type a few words and then have a healthy lunch and then come back and write, and stop at five. It was sort of refreshing to realize oh, even this guy, who talks about things like self-loathing … in the process of writing.” — Pamela Colloff, in “Pam Colloff and Tom Junod talk storytelling”
  54. 54. “To gain entrance into John Hersey’s 12-student senior-year writing seminar at Yale you had to submit writing samples and something about “Why I should be in John Hersey’s seminar,” which, for writers, was the crowning class in school. I thought I’d have no chance in hell.” — Peter Richmond
  55. 55. This is a hurdle. It’s an obstacle of some kind — could be a bad guy, could be a physical challenge, could be some sort of internal emotional demon. — Tommy Tomlinson, from “Everything You Need to Know about Storytelling in 5 Minutes”
  56. 56. “In every piece, there are themes that emerge and must be wrestled with. How do you do that? You gather all your reporting, you read it over, looking for echoes. You spend a lot of time thinking about what seemed to resonate most in the moment. There’s no magic to it. You put in the time and think.” — Amy Wallace, annotating, with Elon Green, her Los Angeles magazine profile of Variety editor Peter Bart
  57. 57. “He had these funny, interesting stories but then he began to tell me about some of his friends, also from Goa, India, who had been promised great jobs in Dubai and Jordan and instead were taken to a war zone, to a U.S. military base. Other workers had been hit by rockets and lost eyes or limbs and had been sent home to their countries with no insurance.” — Sarah Stillman, on how she found her New Yorker piece “The Invisible Army”
  58. 58. Nack makes you feel every moment, every emotion, even an older man’s thrill at falling, with a teenager’s passion, helplessly in love. To hell with being unbiased or detached; this is a narrator rooting like a madman for a thoroughbred that belongs as much to him as to every $2 bettor. — Don Van Natta Jr. on William Nack’s “Pure Heart,” on the racehorse Secretariat
  59. 59. <A procedural question that relates to organization: Do you work from timelines? Also, how much of the case was already laid out in court documents and other source materials, and how much did you have to go beyond what was already known, to fill in blanks? Did you do any investigating of your own?/pw Piecing together what had happened in this case after the trial was a nightmare. There were so many hearings and motions and letters back and forth between the lawyers, and all the lawyers involved remembered the sequence of events differently, and they described everything to me in very complex legal jargon. I basically pieced together a timeline after months of reporting and then tried to whittle that timeline down to include only the most important things that happened. I tried to understand them as best I could—I don’t have a law degree—and then I tried to write this in the clearest language possible. And then it went through fact-checking./pc — from Pamela Colloff’s annotation of “The Innocent Man”
  60. 60. The snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: “Avalanche! Elyse!” — from “Inside Snow Fall”
  61. 61. I intend to spin you toward a certain conclusion. The process is stealthy and has already begun; it was no accident that I called Dr. MacDonald’s stab wound an “incision.” I have come to believe that Jeffrey MacDonald murdered his family and injured himself as part of a coverup; I’ve concluded this both because I have researched the case extensively, and because, as a writer, I see exactly how Errol Morris prejudiced his account while shrewdly appearing not to do so. I admire his skill but not his book. I think the media have been careless and gullible in reviewing it, perhaps partially because the story of a grievous, enduring miscarriage of justice presents a more compelling narrative than the alternative. — Gene Weingarten, from “Just One Question for … Gene Weingarten”
  62. 62. <How did you decide how to structure this piece? Is this version the one you drafted originally or did you play around with it?/pw This story has a pretty natural arch – animals get out, animals get shot, animals get buried, cops still can see the animals. (That sounds more callous than I want for it to, but that’s basically what this story is about. It’s an account of a massacre. It’s not going to be pretty.) I didn’t really mess too much with structure. I just told the story./cj — Chris Jones, annotating “Animals”
  63. 63. On Sept. 16, 1963, he published a column called, “A Flower for the Graves.” It is argument, but it also has a story. It starts with a scene, a moment in time: A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. He introduces a detail that immediately becomes a symbol: a child’s shoe: We hold that shoe with her. Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand. Roy Peter Clark, from “Building Your Canon: SmallScale Narrative” —
  64. 64. Write in the active voice, not the passive. I’m amazed at how often this still happens in my own writing. Avoid: “to be,” “to have” and “to do.” And make sure your verbs push the story forward. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote to his daughter, “All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentence.” — Amy Ellis Nutt on how to look at your own stories more objectively
  65. 65. “Get to the scene of a story as quickly as possible and absorb the story, its characters and their dialogue in the local vernacular, at ground level.” — Texas Monthly’s Skip Hollandsworth
  66. 66. “So these are the seven principles of magic, and I think they’re the seven principles of storytelling: palm, ditch, steal, load, simulation, misdirection, and switch.” — Chris Jones

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